News Articles

 Amid the Pandemic Over 70,000 Boxes of Girl Scout Cookies Were Received by Soldiers 

June 21, 2020

VONORE, TENN -  It took a lot of teamwork this year to get the cookies into the hands of the Soldiers with the COVID-19 restrictions, but it finally got done.

Hugs for Our Soldiers’ 17th Annual Girl Scout Cookie drive generated over 70,000 boxes of these once-a-year treats for Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And they weren’t the only ones to receive cookies.  Every Soldier at Fort Campbell got a box, as well as the Airmen of the 134th Refueling Wing stationed at McGhee-Tyson Airport in Knoxville who have been on continuous rotations in Afghanistan and other countries for several years.  Cookies were also placed in Welcome Home packages for the 531st Hospital unit returning home from New York City where they were supporting the Javits Center field hospital during the pandemic.

This was all made possible through the partnership of Hugs for Our Soldiers with the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee and East Tennessee’s Little River Service Unit in Blount County.  For the 10th year, the Girl Scouts adopted Hugs for Our Soldiers as their gift of caring organization.  During both their presales and booth sales, the girls would promote “buy an extra box of cookies for a Soldier”. All 70,000+ boxes were then donated to HUGS who, in turn, made sure each and every box of cookies got into the hands of Soldiers.

The cookie drives in Middle Tennessee barely finished before COVID-19 restrictions went into effect.  Armstrong Warehousing, just outside of Nashville, held the cookies in their warehouse for almost two months until restrictions were amended to group gatherings of no more than 10.

Teamwork continued from there.  Kathy Orcutt of Hugs for Our Soldiers worked with Fort Campbell to create a distribution list for all Soldiers on post.  Tracy Tudder of Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee devised a plan to where Armstrong repackaged all of the pallets of cookies to be unit specific so that when they were delivered to Fort Campbell, it only required a couple of Soldiers per unit to pick up.  All of this was successfully done to meet the pandemic restrictions of the time.

Pictures have been received from our troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan showing big smiles of appreciation for being remembered from those of us at home.

67,900 boxes of cookies were donated to Hugs for Our Soldiers by Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee and 2100 boxes were donated by the Girl Scouts in Blount County.


Hugs, Cookies - winning combination

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Hugs, cookies – winning combination



Soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, load 600 boxes of Girl Scout cookies onto their vehicle Friday. The Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, partnered with the organization Hugs for Our Soldiers, donated a total of 20,425 boxes of cookies to Fort Campbell Soldiers through their Gift of Caring program.









Hugs welcomes redeploying Sledgehammer soldiers

Click here for storyHugs welcome redeploying Sledgehammer soldiers

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division fill welcome home bags for redeploying brigade soldiers. The Can Do Battalion and volunteers from Hugs for Our Soldiers teamed up to fill nearly 600 bags. The group’s goal was to fill enough bags for each soldier returning to the barracks on Kelley Hill.





3rd Brigade thanks organizations for support while deployed

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(Photo/Mike Haskey 04/17/13)
Hugs for Our Soldiers President (Colleen Edson) and Founder/CEO (Kathy Orcutt) accept Certificate of
Appreciation from 3BDE Commander, Col. Jimmie Johnson, Jr. for its support of the Sledgehammer
Soldiers during their recent deployment.

Hugs for Our Soldiers competes for $250,000 Pepsi Refresh grant

By Linda Braden Albert
Originally published: September 12. 2010 3:01AM
Last modified: September 11. 2010 10:38PM


When a member of the United States armed forces — Army, Marines, Navy or Air Force — returns to U.S. soil after deployment, they have spent many hours on a flight, still in their desert fatigues with dust on their boots. Married servicemen and women are greeted by their spouses and children and return with them to a furnished home with all the comforts.


For those who are single, however, the homecoming can be quite different.

Financial constraints may prevent their families from coming to meet them, opting instead to use the funds to fly their loved one home via commercial airline for their leave, which may be two weeks to 30 days. In the meantime, the soldier returns to an empty barracks, devoid of sheets, towels, blankets, toiletries and snacks.

This is where Hugs for Our Soldiers steps in.

“We are their substitute family,” during that time, said Kathy Hall Orcutt, founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization with the mission of supporting the nation's troops serving overseas. Hugs provides a touch of home to the servicemen and women by sending care packages, letters and cards to them during deployment and gives the American people an opportunity to adopt and care for a deployed soldier, Marine, sailor or airman. When they return home, Hugs volunteers make those empty barracks a place of comfort where they can relax and begin the process of acclimating themselves to life at home.

Pepsi grant

It costs a lot of money to provide these services, but Hugs for Our Soldiers is now in the running for a $250,000 grant which will provide these comforts of home to returning service personnel through its Welcome Home program, the most expensive of the several programs Hugs provides. More than 7,000 individuals have been recipients of the bed linens, hygiene items for their bathrooms, a new towel and washcloth, snack bags and “Welcome Home” signs above each bed, created by school children and Scout troops.

“We try to provide anything that comes in contact with their skin,” Orcutt said.

The snack bags include fruit cups, pudding cups, microwaveable soups and popcorn, cheese or peanut butter crackers, cookies, a granola bar and bottled water. The snack bags also include the soldiers' favorite snack: nachos and salsa.

“This is one of the big things they've missed,” Orcutt said. “They love them.”

Each person may vote daily via two different means through Sept. 30 for Hugs to receive the grant. Online votes may be cast at either or on Facebook at and also by texting the message “102487” to the number 73774 (Pepsi) daily.

Falling behind

Orcutt said Hugs has fallen behind because Pepsi, in order to prevent voting through bogus e-mails created specifically to stuff the ballot box, has decided that deployed soldiers may not allow Hugs volunteers to act as their proxies and vote in their absence. They have limited or no access to computers during deployment in Afghanistan, for example, and when they do have access, they prefer to contact their families.

“They want their votes to count, too,” Orcutt said. “This is 10,000 to 12,000 votes a day our volunteers are ready to cast.” She is negotiating with Pepsi in hopes the company will make an exception for the troops.

In the meantime, Orcutt requests that everyone spread the word about the competition and “Vote, vote, vote.”

“We have got to win this money,” she said. “We have to move our troops to the number one position, because this is where they have us every day.”



Something to chew on: HUGS collects 5,000 packs of gum for soldiers

By Melissa Kinton
Daily Times Correspondent
Originally published: July 04. 2010 3:01AM
Last modified: July 03. 2010 7:05PM

Many of us will spend this Fourth of July weekend on boats or in swimming pools, eating something off the grill and otherwise relaxing with our families.

But there are some who did not get an extra day off work.

There are some who will observe this 234th anniversary of the birth of our nation in faraway places where there is no time to relax, where there are no celebrations, no parades, no cookouts. The only fireworks they will see will be from enemy fire.

And then there are some, like Kathy Orcutt, who will also work through this holiday. Her mission is not to fight but to heal. She organized HUGS for Our Troops, a nonprofit whose mission is simply to serve our troops currently deployed overseas.

This is one of her busiest weekends.

She has mailed Fourth of July cards, created by Heritage Middle School students. She is collecting and shipping bags of hygiene items. She is mailing cases and cases of chewing gum — yes, chewing gum.

Orcutt recently collected some 5,000 packs of sugar-free chewing gum to send to soldiers in Afghanistan. She worked with three area Food Lion stores to collect the gum in just two weeks.

“It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” explained Orcutt. Soldiers had requested the gum; the stores wanted to sell more gum; and the stores’ shoppers wanted to do something — even something as small as donating a pack of chewing gum — to help support American troops.

Collecting candy bars

Orcutt’s organization focuses on soldiers’ requests routinely and holds area drives to secure the items. Currently 10 area Food Lion stores, including all three in Maryville, are collecting candy bars. These candy bars will be put in “Farewell” bags that will be given to deploying soldiers from Fort Campbell.

Area youth decorated the bags, including students at Alcoa Middle School, Union Grove Middle School, Carpenter’s Middle School, Fort Craig After School Care and the Little River Girl Scout Unit of Blount County.

Orcutt said if enough candy bars were collected, she would also use them to fill “Welcome Home” bags for single soldiers. Those with no nearby family often return home to an empty barracks — something Orcutt cannot allow.

“Sometimes folks forget that there are hometown boys in those units,” said Orcutt. “You never know when you’re going to reach someone from right there in your own back yard.”

Hygiene items requested

In addition to the candy bars and the chewing gum, both novelties really, Orcutt is collecting something a little more serious. She has received a request from a Forward Surgical Team, a medical unit that first treats wounded soldiers, for hygiene items.

The unit would like hygiene items including soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste and a toothbrush placed in quart-size bags that can be sealed and placed on a gurney with a wounded soldier so that when that soldier gets to a bigger medical facility, he or she will have basic care items.

So over the next few days, as you celebrate the Fourth of July running in and out of stores to pick up last minute bags of ice or charcoal, Orcutt is hoping you might also buy one extra candy bar or travel-sized bottle of shampoo that she can send to a soldier. As she sees it, there is no better way to celebrate this nation than by honoring its soldiers.


Posted: 2:24 AM Apr 21, 2010

E. Tenn. group, Girl Scouts ship cookies to troops on deployment
An East Tennessee charity is helping a pair of area national guard units on deployment feel like they’re still back home.

Reporter: Nick Bona and Jessica Gertler

Email Address:

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LOUDON COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) – An East Tennessee charity is helping a pair of area national guard units on deployment feel like they’re still back home.

“Hugs For Our Soldiers” and local girl scouts have helped raise donations to send 2,800 boxes of girl scout cookies to members of the 278th Armored Cavalry and 253rd Military Police Company.

On Tuesday evening, volunteers helped pack 1,200 boxes to ship to our local citizen soldiers in Iraq.

The boxes were packed up in Loudon County, but the program serves military families in Blount, Knox, Monroe and Rhea Counties.

"It's really one of our most popular programs with the soldiers,” said Kathy Orcutt, founder of Hugs For Our Soldiers. “There's nothing more that they like, just like the rest of us, than that annual cookie sale."

Orcutt went on to say the first batch of cookies will ship to the soldiers on Wednesday. A second shipment of 1,600 will head overseas in about a month when the 253rd arrives in Iraq.

It is the fourth year the group has worked with the Girl Scouts to ship cookies to the troops.


253rd Military Police Company deploys for pre-Iraq training

Bags decorated by teacher Dawn Reagan's 7th grade class from Carpenter's Middle School
and filled with candy, crackers, and cookies by Hugs for Our Soldiers sit waiting for troops
to take them before the 253rd Military Police Farewell Ceremony Sunday, March 28, 2010
in Lenoir City.  PHOTO BY WADE PAYNE
LENOIR CITY - Sgt. Jonathan Heck of Talbott had been through the emotional overseas deployment routine before, but this time was different.  Saying goodbye to his wife and family was as tough as usual for Heck, but the prospects of seeing his two young sons for the last time for about a year was especially gut-wrenching.
Heck and the soldiers in the 253rd Military Police Company deployed Sunday morning from the Lenoir City National Guard Armory.
It was Heck's first deployment since his wife, Ashley, gave birth to the couple's sons, 20-month-old Peyton and 2-month-old Justin.
The playful Peyton wore his father's dog tags, combat-action badge and wedding ring on a chain.
"I've been to Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay and now I'm going to Iraq, so I guess this is my trifecta," Heck said.
"With the other two (deployments) I didn't have kids, so this one is a little more difficult. I'm gonna miss them a whole lot."
The 170 soldiers traveled with police and motorcycle escort to McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base and then flew to Fort Dix, N.J., where they will undergo 30 to 45 days of specialized training before leaving for their ultimate destination in Iraq.
About 80 percent of the soldiers in the company are military police. The rest are medics, cooks and administrative and maintenance personnel.
Heck's mother, Linda Hayes, and sister, Jessica Coakley, were also on hand to see him off.
"I've been through this before with him," Hayes said.
"He wouldn't admit it, but it's tough on him. It's hard for everybody, but it's really going to be hard on his wife this time."
Capt. Dallas Clements, commander of the company, said the unit has been preparing for this deployment for more than a year.
"This company has accomplished very difficult, demanding training over the last two years.," he said. "They truly are not happy unless they are training hard. They've taken everything we've thrown at them."
Clements said the families, like the Hecks, have sacrificed much the last few years.
Nearly 20,000 Tennessee Army and Air National Guardsmen have mobilized since Sept. 11, 2001.
"It's certainly a hard thing to be away from one's family. One out of every three soldiers (from the 253rd) has been to Iraq or Afghanistan and probably 40 percent has had some overseas deployment," he said.
Sgt. Jeff Porter of Cleveland, Tenn., and his girlfriend, Cristen Cross, also said their final goodbyes until the completion of the mission, which could last as long as 400 days.
Cross said she'll be marking off the days on her calendar.
"As soon as it gets to 401 I'm calling somebody if he's not back," said Cross, allowing a slight smile.

Bath and Body Works in Foothills Mall participates
in Scents for Our Soldiers

“Please send anything that will make me smell like an actual girl,” wrote SPC Kao Lee on her Adopt-A-Soldier form. “After all, there isn’t a Bath & Body Works out here in Iraq,” said SPC Shantia Ezekiel.

When Bath & Body Works’ Foothills Mall store learned of these soldiers’ requests, the associates purchased and donated lotions, body sprays and shower gels. Store manager Kari Bookout stated, “We were personally touched by these soldiers’ requests and we wanted to do something special for them. As a thank you for the sacrifices they make every day to serve our country, my team assembled Valentine’s Day gift bags with Bath & Body Works products to send to each of them.”
Specialists Lee and Ezekiel will be receiving enough Valentine gift bags to share with other female soldiers in their living quarters.
“One thing that caught my eye when reading Spc. Lee’s Adopt-A-Soldier form was her nickname -- Stinky,” said Kathy Orcutt of Hugs for Our Soldiers. “Nicknames are commonly given by fellow soldiers. It can come from anything about that soldier. So my feeling is that Spc. Lee enjoys perfumes and such since she asked for ‘anything that makes her smell like a girl’. More than likely, she reported to duty wearing a favorite fragrance and, thus, got her nickname.”
Lee is a Medic with the 372nd Engineer Brigade serving in Afghanistan. Ezekiel is in Iraq with the Forward Support Company of Fort Benning’s 2-69AR Battalion.
Hugs for Our Soldiers is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Visit their website at to learn how you can support our troops.



Post 256 Commander John Allen presents President of "Hugs for Our
Soldiers, Inc" Kathy Orcutt with a $500 donation to support the program.
Orcutt, center, and Allen are surrounded by the American Legion Post 256
Executive Council Vic Vickery, Don Burgett, Arlen Bee, Pat Brooks, Jim
McNeece and Rich Gruber.


Cookie time!


Girl Scout cookies pre-sale has begun with new cookie in the line-up



The Girl Scouts are coming. They are fanning out across Blount County armed with Girl Scout cookie order forms. Don’t try to resist them…it will be futile, especially with the newest cookie on their list - ThankUBerryMunch, a treat that combines white fudge with cranberries.

Sarah Shepherd is heading up the effort for Blount County this year. She said that on average about two-thirds of sales are wrapped up during the two-week pre-selling period.

“We are doing the door-to-door order taking right now,” Shepherd said. “This is the time when girls call family and friends and go to their parents’ workplace taking orders on their order cards.”

About 65 of 67 troops are selling cookies in Blount County. “That’s just shy of 100 percent of our troops, so there are probably between 600 girls selling cookies,” she said.

For folks who don’t know a Girl Scout and want to order, Shepherd said they can email her at, leave a name, email address and phone number and someone will be in touch to take their order.

The cookies are scheduled to arrive for delivery on Feb. 22, the last week of February, Shepherd said.

“Starting Feb. 26, we’ll have booths set up for three weeks all over town,” said Shepherd, “from Wal-Mart, Kroger, Food City and Food Lion, Shoneys and Chik-fil-A. We usually have about 30 locations.” Sales begin Feb. 26 and end on March 14.

Shepherd said something that hasn’t changed this year is the annual sale is the price of the cookies - $3.50 per box. “This is at least our third year at that price. I don’t know how many things are this good that haven’t gone up in price,” she said. “We also have a new cookie this year, it’s called ThankUberrymunch. It’s made with cranberries and white fudge chips.”

Girl Scout Cookies are made in Louisville, Ky., by Little Brownie Bakers. “They’ve been baking our cookies for years,” she said. “I sold cookies when I was little in the 1970s.”

Shepherd said Girl Scouts have been selling cookies for more than 80 years. “In the beginning, the girls would bake the cookies themselves and put them in wax bags and sell them,” she said.

Selling Girl Scout cookies is good for the troop members in many ways, Shepherd said. “Yes, it does earn money for their troops so they can do activities and community service projects, but it also helps them learn how to go up to people and present themselves properly,” she said. “If for no other reason, they’re so easy to sell, it gives them self confidence.”

Shepherd said the girls learn early business skills like planning and managing their time. “We’re not teaching them to be the next CEO, but it is a beginning step because they’re learning skills like counting out change and setting goals,” she said. “They learn how powerful that can be, because they really do see what they’re striving for, whether it is a little incentive they get or just the concept of reaching their goal.”

Something else Shepherd said folks should remember is Girl Scout cookies can be purchased for charities.

“We have The Gift of Caring Program, where people can purchase cookies to donate to charitable organizations and each troop can pick their own charity,” she said. “As a service unit, we used Hugs for Our Soldiers and sold 1,000 boxes last year to send to soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. With the 278th being deployed, we’ll be sending cookies to some of our own guys.”


Heritage Middle School students support troops overseas


By Matthew Stewart
Originally published: November 23. 2009 3:01AM
Last modified: November 22. 2009 4:56PM


Heritage Middle School students Alex Webb (left) and Allison Wilson
add snacks to a package for the Hugs for Our Soldiers program.

Blount County students care about their troops and are doing their best to support them overseas.

Heritage Middle School has participated in the Hugs for Our Soldiers program for six years, said founder Kathy Orcutt. Students make troop care packages for sixth grade social studies teacher's Leigh Terry class. They pack cards, instant noodles, snacks, drink packs, first aid kits, wet wipes, medicated back patches and assorted dessert items.

"Students love it; and it's a small thing we can do for the soldiers who are protecting us everyday. I hope our students gain a sense of pride and understand the importance of helping others," Terry said.

Army officials also allowed three soldiers to visit the school while students were making packages. Sgt. Johnny Simmons, Sgt. Jay Knight and Spc. Joalice Andino-Valles of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. visited with students and talked about the importance of their packages.

The three soldiers, who left Fort Benning at 1:30 a.m. to speak with students, were enthusiastic about being able to visit students.

"Most troops don't receive letters and treats from their family and friends," Andino-Valles said. She later thanked students for participating in the program. "You guys write heartfelt stuff; and it's real special seeing you do it. I always thought kids sat down with their parents to write them. It's just nice to know you take time during school to do it."

Troops from the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment -- which is also known as the "Dragon" or "Can Do" Battalion -- were deployed to Iraq for the fourth time last month.

Troops refer to their deployments by the mission name and number; and the U.S. military is currently in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 7, Knight said. Simmons has served in OIF 1, 3 and 5. Andino-Valles has served in OIF 3 and 5. Knight served in OIF 5.

Simmons, Knight and Andino-Valles are currently performing rear detachment duties at Fort Benning. Simmons is recovering from a shoulder injury; Andino-Valles recently delivered her second child, Ian; and Knight will soon be attending Officer Candidate School in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Hugs for Our Soldiers is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization that has been supporting U.S. troops since 2003. Many local organizations, businesses, churches and private individuals are helping this year, Orcutt said.

Carpenters Middle School students have made 200 care packages, she said. Alcoa Middle School students have made 325 packages, Orcutt said.

Local Girl Scouts have made 300 packages, she said. This Is Lisa Thomas Salon, 332 Sanderson St., Suite 3, Alcoa, and its clients have made 100 care packages, Orcutt said.

The American Legion Post, Tellico Village Retired Military Club and Rarity Bay Women's Club have also donated money, she said.


Our soldiers at war deserve hugs and so much more
Originally published: November 24. 2009 3:01AM
Last modified: November 23. 2009 9:28PM
Monday's story about Hugs for Our Soldiers was punctuated with heartwarming quotes from Heritage Middle School students.

Hugs for Our Soldiers is a volunteer nonprofit organization that supports U.S. troops by sending care packages and cards to our men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan. Students from Alcoa Middle and Carpenters Middle schools also prepared hundreds of cards and care packages.

During the event at Heritage Middle, students had an opportunity to express their respect for troops who put their lives on the line every day for the rest of us.

Special guests were in attendance: three soldiers stationed with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga. All have served in Iraq.


There was one quote, words not spoken by a student, that were chilling. The comment was meant to underline the soldiers' appreciation, and it did -- perhaps more than the soldiers knew.

"Most troops don't receive letters and treats from their family and friends."

That revelation, coming from Spc. Joalice Andino-Valles, was telling and sobering.

Our troops at war, including members of the National Guard and Reserves, serve because they volunteered. They stood up when called to fight for their country when others chose comfort and safety.

To hear that most of our troops don't routinely learn of how they are appreciated on the home front is disheartening.

Could it be that because that we are so isolated from the impact -- there is no draft, the tax bill will be paid for by future generations -- that we find these wars to be mere conflicts of inconvenience?

Could it be that we have allowed talking heads -- screaming heads at times -- to diminish the sacrifice of sweat and blood into talking points stuffed between commercials? Who can hear the sound of a heartbeat through the noise of ego gratification?

Or, could it be that a simple gesture of human gratitude is worth more to isolated troops stationed in a harsh, faraway land than all the words spoken in marbled halls in search of a sound bite suitable for the next election cycle?

In the face of relentless, self-serving pontification, is a single act of kindness pointless?

Thank goodness for simple concern. Thank goodness for unconditional appreciation. Thank goodness for youth.

If it takes our young people to remind us of what we have and why it is important -- so be it.


Issue 9.60 | Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009

Editor, the Forum:

Tears came to my eyes recently when a close relative shared with me that when he was overseas in the Army that he only received two letters - EVER - over a period of three years from his family, and he came from a good home. I just could not understand how a young man in the service could not get mail (letters, packages, something) from moms, dads and siblings. I asked him why, and he just shrugged and said, "Out of sight, out of mind."

It seems that there are many of our young people out there right now serving in the Iraq war that do not get very much mail and we have a way to brighten their days. There is a non-profit organization called "Hugs for Our Soldiers" ( where we can adopt a soldier. We can do this as an individual, a family or a group. We are matched up with a soldier who has also signed up with this organization and asked to be adopted. We send cards or notes (hopefully at least every two weeks) and a package of goodies about once a month.

How neat to have this opportunity! My husband and I just signed up and recently received the information on our "adopted soldier." His home town is Athens, Ga. and maybe one day, we'll even get to meet him. But for now, we're just excited to be able to write to him and send him some "care packages."

We understand that there are about 50 soldiers from Fort Benning (men and women) that were just deployed to Iraq and have requested to be adopted. The mission of the group is to support the troops serving overseas by providing a touch of home. God Bless these fine folks who are serving our country.
~ Cherie & Greg Pritchard